Clinton remarks on 2000 election have pundits in uproar
David Edwards and Daniel Tencer
August 13, 2009
A political controversy has exploded surrounding Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s frank admission Wednesday that American democracy is vulnerable to subversion.
Speaking at a town hall meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, Clinton addressed the issue of corruption in elections, a common problem in the West African country. After urging Nigerians always to reject election-related violence, America’s top diplomat pointed out that the US has had its own electoral problems.
“Our democracy is still evolving,” Clinton said. “You know we’ve had all kinds of problems in some of our past elections as you might remember. In 2000, our presidential election came down to one state where the brother of the man running for president was the governor of the state, so we have our problems, too.”
In reaction, the UK Guardian opined, “The Republicans will seek to exploit Clinton’s comparison of the US elections with those of an African state and for breaking the convention that leaders do not criticize fellow domestic politicians while abroad.”
And indeed that appears to be the case. A spokesperson for former Florida governor Jeb Bush said Bush “is declining to weigh in on these ill-advised comments” and instead wished Clinton a “safe and successful” journey.
“When you criticize your own country as an official of that country it obviously undermines the authority of the government,” Ilya Shapiro, of the conservative-leaning Cato Institute told ABC News. “It casts a shadow on the legitimacy of the US government as we pursue our foreign affairs. I don’t think that helps.”
But others are coming to Clinton’s defense, saying that she only expressed what everybody knows to be true.
“I think she was doing the right by giving Nigerians the sense that we Americans, we’re not perfect either,” Walter Russell Mead, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told ABC News. “All countries have problems.”
“There is not a single thing that is in dispute,” the Guardian quoted Democratic strategist James Carville as saying. Carville, credited with helping Bill Clinton win the White House in 1992, said “there has to be a time when the secretary of state speaks the truth.”
The jury remains out on whether Clinton’s candid approach to international relations will help the US achieve its foreign policy goals, but this is not the first controversy to hit the secretary of state during her 11-day African tour.
On Monday in Kinshasa, Congo, when Clinton was asked about her husband’s views on a financial matter involving Congo and China, she snapped, “My husband is not secretary of state, I am.”
“You want me to tell you what my husband thinks?” she asked. “If you want my opinion, I will tell you my opinion, I am not going to be channeling my husband.”
On Thursday Clinton arrived in Liberia, where she is expected to show support for Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the country’s president and Africa’s only female leader. Sirleaf is under pressure to resign following an inquiry into Liberia’s civil war, which took the lives of 300,000 people between 1989 and 2003, before Sirleaf was elected.